Saturday, February 16, 2013

Total Recall (2012)

When I first heard that there would be a remake of Total Recall (1990), I was a little upset.  It might not be the most subtle movie (hint: Arnold), but it is a pretty awesome and ridiculous (hint: three-breasted lady) piece of action/sci-fi.  Why mess with a classic?  But then I thought it over.  This is a Philip K. Dick short story, so you could redo this film as a paranoid science fiction nightmare, like something Cronenberg would make.  Or you could play up the idea of someone not knowing their identity; it could be like The Bourne Identity, only in the future!  The only wrong way to remake Total Recall would be to try and out-action an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
Hmm...that trailer makes it look like they made the wrong choice.

By the end of the 21st century, the Earth has been reduced to a wasteland, following large-scale chemical warfare.  Only England and Australia remain inhabitable, although they are a tad overcrowded.  The teeming masses of Australia commute to England to work low-end jobs, while native English get the higher paying leadership positions.  Naturally, that leads to some complaints from the Australian servant class, and some domestic terrorism/freedom fighting has broken out.  Times are tense, but I know what you are wondering.  How can people commute across the globe on a regular basis?  If you guessed via a tunnel bored through the center of the planet, you defied logic and guessed right!  Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is one of these menial Australian laborers.  While he has a home, a gorgeous wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and a job, he is unsatisfied.  He has recurring dreams of another woman, with them on the run together from the government.
He's married to Beckinsale, but dreams of Biel.  Quaid is an ungrateful bastard.
Quaid keeps hearing about a company called Rekall.  It's a place where they implant fake memories that seem totally real, but aren't.  Essentially, it's a way for a boring person to remember an exciting life that they never had the opportunity/balls to actually experience.  Quaid decides to give it a try, and opts for the "secret agent" special.  But that's when things get bad, very fast.  Quaid already had his memories tampered with!  Now he's on the run from the police for something he doesn't understand, his wife is trying to kill him, and it appears that dream girl is actually a real person?!?  Is this all in Quaid's head, or is it really happening?
I vote real.  My imagination wouldn't come up with that dumb hairstyle.

The acting in Total Recall (2012) is pretty mediocre.  Nobody is fantastic, but nobody hams it up, either (which is probably an upgrade from the original film).  In the lead role, Colin Farrell looked suitably confused and he was convincing in his action scenes.  This role doesn't play to his strengths (thick brogue and empathetic eyebrows), but he plays a generic hero well enough.  Kate Beckinsale took on the role of the primary villain, which is a change of pace for her.  She doesn't actually seem evil, so much as she is paramilitary with crazy eyes.
Exhibit A
More than anything else, Beckinsale was cast to look hot and perform action stunts, which she handles easily.  Her role isn't very deep, but she does run around a lot to distract you from that fact.  Jessica Biel plays the part of the "good girl," which for all intents and purposes has her running for her life whenever she's onscreen.  I keep wanting Biel to show off some acting talent, but she can't seem to get past "mild alarm" in this role.
Bryan Cranston once again plays an authority figure in a film, and once again underwhelms when he is given generic characters.  The man can obviously act, but his movie roles don't show it.  This is the first time I have seen Bokeem Woodbine in a role that wasn't obviously sinister; he was fine playing a character part, but I think he's got enough charisma to carry a more complex role in a big movie.  Bill Nighy makes an all-too-brief appearance, probably due to his history with the director.  I love Nighy, but he is awfully boring when he plays seemingly normal people, and that's what he was here.  Rounding out the noteworthy cast, John Cho played the owner/operator of Rekall, which is a surprisingly minor role that didn't really require a recognizable actor.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, they did bring back the prostitute character with three breasts.  She's played by Kaitlyn Leeb, and the extra breast appears to be fake.  Maybe.

This is only director Len Wiseman's fourth effort behind the camera (and his first since 2007), but it's hard to tell.  Wiseman (best known for the Underworld series) slips effortlessly back into glossy action movie-mode with Total Recall (2012).  There is a metric crap-ton of action in this movie, and it all looks great.
Although it sometimes seems like an excuse to check out his wife's butt
Wiseman is not known for his storytelling skills, though, and that shows.  Total Recall (2012) is effectively one long chase scene.  The smarter elements in the plot --- the mind games and the interesting science fiction aspects --- are lost among the countless shootouts and explosions.  When he slows down to play up some of the supposedly less exciting elements, they're pretty cool, but sadly underused.
A hand-video-phone?  That's awesome!
Wiseman is also not much of an actor's director, which can be seen by the fact that his entire cast is one-dimensional.  I can't blame him for the script, but any character development --- at all --- would have been appreciated.  Story logic would have helped out a bit, too.  I couldn't have been the only person who realized that Kate Beckinsale's character is a covert agent out to capture one man, and yet she destroys more buildings and cannon fodder characters than the entire cast of Terminator 3.  That was not terribly covert.
...but she apparently enjoyed every minute of it

Total Recall (2012) is definitely a well-produced film, and it is undoubtedly full of action.  None of that means anything if the characters suck, though.  Well, I suppose that's not entirely true; if the action is ridiculous enough, it can balance out terrible characters, but that's not the case here.  Let's take one of the many chase scenes as a for instance:
Okay, this is a little reminiscent of Minority Report, but looks exciting enough.  When you look back on the film, though, this scene just blends in with dozens more that feel just like it.  However, ten seconds of Quaid at Rekall plant a lasting image in your mind.
Planting courtesy of Rekall
That is the most frustrating aspect of Total Recall (2012) --- it has some very cool sci-fi ideas and moments, but exclusively emphasizes the dumb action movie parts. As far as dumb action movies go, Total Recall is decently made.  It's nothing special, but it moves almost fast enough to keep the audience from noticing plot holes.  It's not very original, though, even for a remake.  Generic action sequences give way to homages to Minority Report, Blade Runner, and the 1990 original, but none of them are particularly clever or fun (except for tri-breast, which still makes me laugh every time). 
Cue fight scene 27
It was an incredibly poor choice to try an out-do the action in a remake of a film starring THE action star of the last 30 years, but the filmmakers didn't fail.  They were just adequate and bland.  And when you're being compared to something that was --- whatever your take on it --- unique, being boring looks even worse by comparison.  I thought about knocking this movie down a few notches for falling short of the original, but it's really a decent mindless action movie.  It should have been more, but it's perfectly mediocre for what it is.

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